Ken Ehrlich’s 40-Year Grammy Run Is Coming To An End But He’s Not Ready To Call It Quits

Ken Ehrlich
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– Ken Ehrlich
Ken Ehrlich steps down after a 40-year stretch of producing music’s biggest (televised) night.
For the past 40 years, Ken Ehrlich has had to put his holiday plans on hold to produce the annual Grammy Awards, which he’s been doing since 1981 when the televised ceremony took place for the first time at Radio City Music Hall in New York. 
Under the auspices of legendary producer Pierre Cossette, that first year – which was overshadowed by the murder of John Lennon in December of 1980 – featured Christopher Cross winning all four major awards – Best Album, Best Song, Best Record and Best New Artist – the first and only time that’s been done.
The 62nd annual Grammy Awards marks the 76-year-old Ehrlich’s final go-round as producer and creative guru for the show. He takes a moment to reflect in his rented office in Encino, Calif., though he refuses to look back.
“I’m not thinking about this being my final time doing the Grammys,” he insists in an interview that took place before the controversial ouster of Recording Academy President/CEO Deborah Dugan. “It’s just business as usual for me. I’ve resolved it, at least in my mind, as all I have to do is create one more great show. I’m not even thinking about the day after.”
Ehrlich was not immune to the controversy, with Dugan’s discrimination complaint claiming the veteran Grammy producer influenced the nomination process to favor artists he wanted on the show, a charge he didn’t respond to when Pollstar reached out for comment.
Still, no one can dispute the success and the quality of the Grammy production that Ehrlich has helmed for the past four decades. 
Ken Ehrlich and Keith Urban
– Ken Ehrlich and Keith Urban
G’Day Mate: “I’ve been here for every major transition that music had made over the years,” says Ken Ehrlich, pictured with country heartthrob Keith Urban.

This year, as in others, he begins the night before the nominations are officially made public: “We have a meeting and then we – and this is the word I want to use – ‘collide’ with the TV committee and the network, where we bring all our choices to the table. And then I just do what I want to do after I [listen] to them.” By the third week in December, Ehrlich had songs picked and a production schedule set for at least 14 of the show’s 18 or 19 performances. 
“Sometimes the artist, management or label come in with unrealistic expectations,” he notes. “Other times, we have different ideas. But we don’t have the luxury of time this year. I have to tell them, I can’t afford to f**k around. Let’s figure this out. It’s my job to know what will work on television.”
This year’s show, like last year’s, will feature  young newcomers including Billie Eilish and Lizzo, who have very distinct outsider personas that don’t necessarily conform to the public’s ideas of a pop star.
“Kacey Musgraves and H.E.R. were a harbinger of this type of inclusion,” he says of last year’s Grammys. “There were four or five acts no one knew about before the show. The flag was planted and it’s not going back. When I looked at this year’s nominees and didn’t see much Beyoncé, Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran … [Major] artists are my comfort zone. My first instinct was ‘uh-oh.’ But I’m a chameleon. I was with Outkast and Kanye from day one.  I’ve been here for every major transition that music had made over the years.”
For his very first show, Ehrlich – who received a fee of $30,000, but declines to divulge what he makes now – had Irene Cara sing “Fame” while outside Radio City, then followed her down the aisle onto the stage. 
When asked what the biggest change over the past 40 years has been, he quotes the legendary Broadway producer/director George Abbott, “Electricity.”
“Technology has made the process more streamlined, mostly, until it fails,” Ehrlich observes. “Musical styles, of course, have changed over the years. Things happen so quickly.”
Ehrlich will be honored at this year’s ceremony with a Trustee’s Award to go alongside the President’s Award he received a few years ago as a make-up for a disagreement with former Recording Academy head Neil 
Portnow, who stepped down after a 17-year run.
“Like everyone who does what I do, there are days when I feel totally undervalued, and then there are times when I realize I’ve been so lucky to be doing this for 40 years. This is my signature. I’m grateful for what this show has done for me and, other times, I feel I haven’t been appreciated enough.”
As he has for the past several years, Ehrlich will preside over not just the Grammys, but an eagerly anticipated Prince tribute to be taped Jan. 28 at the L.A. Convention Center, just two days after the awards ceremony, which has previously honored the Beatles, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Bee Gees and Aretha Franklin. 
“Musically, that will be a very rich show,” he says. “That’s the most fun, but I have no idea how we do it. Five days later, I’m wondering what my next job will be. But it’s energizing. There’s something about continuing to prove yourself, that you can still do this. That’s why I’m not retiring. I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”

Ken Ehrlich and Stevie Wonder
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– Ken Ehrlich and Stevie Wonder
Master Blasters: Ken Ehrlich with Stevie Wonder, one of the many legends he’s worked with over his 40-year stint with the Grammys that comes to an end this year.
To that end, Ehrlich is taking meetings about future projects, but will take a break after the Grammys before returning to the fray later in the year. 
Before the Dugan news broke (see page 11), Ehrlich insisted he was bullish on the direction of the Recording Academy under the now-suspended President/CEO. He praised Dugan and chairman Harvey Mason, Jr., the musician/ producer who was named her interim replacement.
“They’re both good leaders,” he said at the time. “I think the organization is in good hands. They have challenges, but I think it’s changing in terms of industry perception. The committees and voting procedures still need to be addressed.”
Given his ’60s activist roots, Ehrlich is proudest of having the Grammy Awards start dealing with current social issues, such as the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis same-sex marriage production number or Logic’s anti-suicide song over the past few years.
“At some point, it hit me pretty hard that these artists are more than just music and lyrics,” he says. “We are entering a time that looks very familiar to me. This younger generation is very much bringing those concerns back to the music as I did when I first started doing this. Especially over the last three years. I don’t want to say politicized, but are we going to address social issues? Yes. My time in the Obama White House didn’t hurt my sense of activism. You can see that in the culture of kids like Greta Thunberg and Yara Shahidi. We need to nurture that, otherwise we’re doomed. And I have two little grandchildren, so I don’t want to be doomed.”